Will Windows 8 Leave OS X Trailing in its Dust?

Say what you like about Windows 8 (and who isn’t) but it’s embracing new technologies like never before.  This got me looking at Apple’s desktop operating system, OS X, and asking myself if Windows 8 might leave the Lion trailing far behind in its dust.  First things first though, I’m not going to assume that Windows 8 will be a tablet operating system, as that would be unfair given that Windows in its various forms currently runs on about 1 billion desktops and probably about thirty or forty tablets worldwide.  I’m also not anti-Apple, as OS X is a very polished and accomplished operating system that almost nobody has a bad word to say about.  What I want to do is take each operating system on its merits and compare these two operating systems as they will stand, shoulder-to-shoulder this October when Windows 8 is expected to launch.

This means we will still be using OS X Lion on iMacs because Apple’s desktop OS release schedule usually means they release something new every eighteen months to two years, and with Lion coming out in the summer of 2011, that means the next big cat will lag from a few months to as much as a year behind Windows 8.  So where will these two operating systems stand and why, do I think anyway, Windows 8 will be ahead of the pack?

Let’s start with touch, as Windows 8 is centred around it in a way no desktop operating system ever has been before.  This is significant because when you look at it objectively Windows is the only desktop operating system to ever feature touch.  It’s never been in OS X or GNU/Linux and, although most people expect the next generation iMacs and Macbooks to be multi-touch enabled they might not appear for another year or more.  Touch is important as any new way to interact with our computers opens up opportunities both for existing users and people who are new to technology.  This can include the elderly, disabled or very young children, all of whom can have trouble with keyboards.

Touch brought with it handwriting recognition to Windows, which has now been with us in some form or another since around 2005 when Microsoft first introduced the concept of the tablet PC.  The handwriting recognition in Windows is really quite mature now and far ahead of the competition.  Apple, by contrast doesn’t even offer the feature on the iPad and it has to be added via a third-party app.  Again this offers new ways to interact with our computers and opens them up to new people and new markets.

While we’re on the subject of interfaces there can be little doubt that Microsoft’s Kinect sensor will revolutionise the way we use PCs in the same way it has done for gaming.  It may only be useful for broad swipes but imagine the fun people will have playing with it on a new laptop, or the benefits it can bring to the physically handicapped?

It’s not just in interfaces that Microsoft is leagues ahead of Apple.  Data encryption is another area where they still rule the roost.  No matter how secure people might tell you their Macbook is, it’s still vulnerable to being dismantled and having the hard drive removed.  Microsoft’s Bitlocker drive encryption technology has now been with us since 2005 and is widely considered as the business data encryption tool.  This is at a time when data protection and data encryption are more important than ever before.

Add to this new technologies such as hard disk storage pooling, new advanced file management features and the Windows To Go feature, which will allow you to load your entire copy of Windows 8, including all it’s installed software onto a bootable USB pen drive and Windows 8 is clearly well in the lead.

If you want to come back now and say that the average desktop user doesn’t need any of these features then I would say this to you.  Each one of the very few technologies I’ve listed here is either currently making a big difference in the world today, or is set to do so very shortly (such as Windows To Go).  There is nothing here that can be considered frivolous or useless in any way.  In short I could suggest, if I dare, that Apple have spent so long concentrating on the smartphone and tablet space that they’ve simply taken their eye off the desktop and when they had chances to import some of these technologies into OS X, remember that OS X and iOS run on the same core kernel, they missed the opportunity.

There are also, and this is important to say, areas where OS X is ahead of Windows.  While some of these areas have been historically significant, such as user security, OS X doesn’t currently lead in any meaningful way, and with the technologies that are making a big impact in the world today.

The reason I say this is because, while the focus of Windows 8 might be on it’s funky new Metro front end, many people will be comparing Windows and OS X and wondering why the precocious Metro upstart is so far ahead.  Apple clearly has some catching up to to, and they’d better hurry because I do actually want to buy an iMac, but until they begin to support touch they can forget it.

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8 Responses to Will Windows 8 Leave OS X Trailing in its Dust?

  1. C14-Guest February 8, 2012 at 2:25 am #

    As a longer term Windows user, and anti-Apple-ist, I really like some of the cool new features Windows 8 will bring, and can see many of them being very useful. However as a desktop user, I still cant get my head around wanting Touch on a Desktop PC or wanting to use Metro on the Desktop as a primary UI.
    I have been playing with the developer preview and it just makes everything harder. It’s probably been fixed now in the consumer preview version, but currently i cant find a way to even close Apps that I have opened via Metro, without dropping into Desktop mode and using task manager.
    I’m sure Metro would be great to look at on a tablet, when all you want is quick apps and portable web browsing. But Please.. Leave the desktop alone.
    At this rate I will be stuck on Windows 7 for a while, as my PC is not compatible with Linux, and I cant see myself upgrading to Windows 8.
    If only there was an alternative…

    • misc February 8, 2012 at 5:55 am #

      I would believe MS will come up with some top-level option to allow you to set traditional desktop as default.

    • Harvey February 8, 2012 at 9:48 am #

      I still can’t believe that there are STILL people complaining about the Metro on the Desktop (as the only choice ) based on the Developer Preview.
      Its NOT going to be like that!

      You can’t believe that they will force the Enterprise user to use the “Touch First” interface.
      On PCs used in warehouses to run logistics, etc…

      C’mon man!

  2. Robert B February 8, 2012 at 9:43 am #

    You made a very good argument there for Windows 8 Mike I must say. I’ll have to agree with you on pretty much everything you said, Apple definitely have taken their eye off of the desktop operating system, and Windows 8 is the first desktop OS built around touch

  3. Michael Buckley February 9, 2012 at 8:26 am #

    It’s interesting, because Apple have always had iOS, designed for touch screens and Mac OS X, designed for desktop/laptops; in a sense, two distinct user interfaces for two different methods of interaction. Microsoft is trying to take the same OS and make it usable in both environments, which is not an easy task.

    There’s a lot to discuss on this topic, but personally I can really see the appeal of tablet/smartphone features on the desktop (push notifications, live tiles, etc.), and I hope Microsoft can make this work (and this is coming from a Mac user)! It will change what people expect in PC UIs and it’ll probably encourage Apple to step up their game on their PC operating systems in the future.

  4. Rob83 February 9, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    In my opinion Windows almost always leaves OS X in the dust. From what I’ve heard Lion can’t even run OS X software from 5 years ago (some kind of compatibility issue). But I can take Office 2003 and run it just fine on Windows 7.

    The only two versions of Windows OS X beat (at the time of their releases) was Windows Me and Vista. And to a certain extent Xp towards the end of the 2000’s (but Xp is an OLD OS so it’s not a fair fight in that regard).

    But for the most part over the last 10 years you were better off having Windows than OS X. And I think that’s especially true now with Windows 7.

  5. David Hawkins February 9, 2012 at 12:53 pm #

    Personally, I am excited by the concept of a touch interface. My current desktop has support for 5 monitors. I have three up on a rack for heads up work with mouse and keyboard. I have wanted to plug in the other two so I could have a background screen up above for entertainment such as music, videos, etc, while working, and the fifth to be the actual desktop. I would still keep my mouse and keyboard on the drawer under the table, but for drawing, taking notes via pen, and hopefully playing some fun games, the table top touch screen will be SWEET!

    I would use the current three main screens for applications that are mouse/keyboard/voice and Kinec enabled, while the touch would pretty much have OneNote open all the time, as well as having the Metro main screen in place for OS navigation.

  6. A B February 18, 2012 at 7:20 am #

    None of these features can be considered frivolous or useless. But then again, none of them can be considered essential (right now, for the majority of users).

    They don’t matter for ~90% of the users.

    Linux does already have touch. Although, not as good as M$’s.
    That said, i don’t care about touch. Most of people don’t care about touch. And most of the people that do care about touch, use other interfaces, when available.

    What i expect in any new (Windows or other) OS release is nothing more that this:
     – More speed (and not just booting up!)
     – More security
     – More freedom to choose what tools i wan’t to use

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